Last night I attended an educational event in San Francisco hosted by Planned Parenthood. The event was geared to inform the public about Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which is the political arm (the 501-c-4) of the organization.
My first impression was surprise that about 30% of people in attendance were men. In fact, one of the first speakers to share how Planned Parenthood benefited him was male. This first impression laid the foundation for an eye opening evening.
I learned that Planned Parenthood does three types of work: reproductive and general health services (97% of which are preventative), education outreach, and advocacy. The Action Fund does the advocacy work, supporting candidates in local, state, and federal elections.
Adrienne Bousian, who runs Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood Northern California Action Fund, gave a helpful overview of the work Planned Parenthood has done and is doing in California. For example, I learned that California is the only state that has defeated parental consent ballot initiatives three times (all between 2005 and 2008), in part due to the advocacy work of the Action Fund. And the Action Fund is currently focusing on the November 2014 elections, helping elect candidates who support reproductive health care access. I didn’t realize the extent to which Planned Parenthood is politically engaged and active.
One point that stuck with me was when Adrienne described the demographic who cares about reproductive health care access. Today it is primarily people under 30- particularly minority groups- those who don’t vote as much as other groups do. As our generation grows older, we will be a significant part of the voting population, and support for Planned Parenthood turns out to be a pivotal issue that indicates support for other causes as well. Planned Parenthood does a lot of voter registration at its health care centers. It’s always fascinating to learn how voter demographics affect political outcomes and I hope to learn more.
At the event, I also had the pleasure of speaking with Heather Saunders Estes, the President of Planned Parenthood NorCal. I told Heather about my positive experience with Planned Parenthood’s education outreach work. At the high school I taught at in Richmond, Planned Parenthood was on campus every Tuesday, available to answer questions. I had heard about the types of questions and concerns students would bring; it was clear that sex ed in our school was a gap filled by the resources of Planned Parenthood. Knowing that many of my students were sexually active, I invited one of the Planned Parenthood staff members to come speak to my classroom. The day she visited, I was very impressed with the ease and professionalism with which she handled student questions. High school juniors are not an easy audience to discuss the SAT with, let alone sexual health. As I sat in the back of the class, I thought how uncomfortable I would have been, having the conversation that she had with my students. That was six years ago, and I know today many of the students already have children- I hope at least some are still connected to Planned Parenthood as a source of information, care and nonjudgmental support.
When I told Heather how grateful I was for Planned Parenthood’s education outreach, she told me that unfortunately many of these programs were cut in 2008. In California, Planned Parenthood’s education outreach work was in large part funded by state grants, but the grant program was cut during the recession. Heather also told me that there are still grants that districts can apply for to bring Planned Parenthood and sex ed to their campuses, but the grant application process is complicated and many districts don’t have the capacity to navigate the bureaucracy. Heather hopes that as the economy improves, the state grant program will come back and be more accessible to school districts.
Since most of the time Planned Parenthood is in the news it is related to abortions (which are a tiny fraction of their health services- only 3%), it was really interesting to learn about their other services and lesser known branches of the organization: the political advocacy and education outreach work. I am so proud of and encouraged by the efforts of accomplished women like Adrienne and Heather. They are tirelessly pursuing work that benefits all of us.
To learn about how to get involved, check out their site.